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Friday, September 30, 2005

The Glass is Half Full

I haven't written much about my health, or my Dad's health, but the two are closely related. I may get around to it but I find the subject both boring (to you) and painful (to me).

Anyway, suffice it to say my blood pressure has been up and I'm finding myself in the paper-gowned shoes of my patients now. My BP was 160/110 a few weeks ago, and now after some major lifestyle modifications and judicious use of drug rep samples, my parter was able to get my BP down to 130/88 this morning.

He congratulated me and told me I must be doing something right.

Yeah, well, no coffee, no sweets, no more Frosty Flakes (snif), and a new exercise program, (and some Benicar) seem to be working.

"So you're not having any fun anymore?"

"Nope. Life sucks, but at least I won't die."

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Tonight, on a very special Kerckhoff Coffeehouse...

You've seen the dramatization here.

Now experience the reality version in a climactic season-finale crossover episode RIPPED FROM THE HEADLINES!!

Guest-starring Psycho Toddler's PT!

PT: you're right, the actual exchange is funnier
PT: i'm surprised i remembered as much as i did
doctor_bean: it's your blog
doctor_bean: i don't want to tell you what to do
PT: what are you talking about
doctor_bean: but there are some very funny lines by both of us
doctor_bean: that didn't make the cut
PT: you're always telling me what to do
doctor_bean: that's true. i want to tell you what to do.
doctor_bean: so delete any of the file i sent that you don't want public and change it
doctor_bean: or i could post it at the coffeehouse, but i'd want to make sure there isn't stuff there that you don't want up
PT: oh!
PT: I have an idea
doctor_bean: yeah?
PT: you post it at the coffeehouse

Someone Stole My Bagel

PT: Someone stole my bagel
Doctor Bean: I swear, it wasn't me!
PT: or maybe someone threw it out. I can't be sure
Doctor Bean: We have a few stale ones here if you want
PT: You're 2,129 miles away
Doctor Bean: If you get in the car now, you can be here by Friday!
PT: I'm really trying to be good...
Doctor Bean: Non-sequitor
PT: I'm avoiding sweets, I haven't had coffee in a week, I started exercising, I stopped eating frosty flakes
PT: And I went to the trouble of making my own bagel and creamcheese for lunch, just a little one, no candy or cake
Doctor Bean: Good for you
PT: And now somebody stole it, and the only thing that's kosher at the gas station is a big ole cookie. What am I supposed to do?
Doctor Bean: Eat the cookie.
PT: A cookie. And a diet coke. Blecccch.
Doctor Bean: Diet Coke! Yum!
PT: I feel like Al Pacino in the Godfather III. I keep trying to get out
Doctor Bean: And they keep pulling you back in?

PT: I'll start my diet tomorrow
Doctor Bean: Hot drug rep here. Hubba hubba.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

A Song for Katrina

UPDATE: Added the electric version of the song

It may seem like I'm a little late to the party, but I'm not. I've been thinking about Hurricane Katrina and her victims from the beginning. But I didn't know how to process it. It seemed horribly surreal to me. Like something out of a late late night movie. A giant storm of biblical proportions comes and wipes out a major US city. Hundreds or thousands are dead. Armed gangs of thugs roam the streets and shoot rescue workers. All it needed were the zombies to complete the picture.

So I sat in Shul the Shabbos after the storm and tried to comprehend that New Orleans was gone. That hundreds of thousands were homeless. And then someone got up to the bima and started chanting this Haftorah from Isaiah 54:

יא עֲנִיָּה סֹעֲרָה, לֹא נֻחָמָה; הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי מַרְבִּיץ בַּפּוּךְ, אֲבָנַיִךְ, וִיסַדְתִּיךְ, בַּסַּפִּירִים.
11 O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will set thy stones in fair colours, and lay thy foundations with sapphires.

יג וְכָל-בָּנַיִךְ, לִמּוּדֵי יְהוָה; וְרַב, שְׁלוֹם בָּנָיִךְ.
13 And all thy children shall be taught of the LORD; and great shall be the peace of thy children.

And then a little later on, this:

א הוֹי כָּל-צָמֵא לְכוּ לַמַּיִם, וַאֲשֶׁר אֵין-לוֹ כָּסֶף; לְכוּ שִׁבְרוּ, וֶאֱכֹלוּ
1 Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye for water, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat;

And I sat back, and I was floored. Now, I don't pretend to read any supernatural connotations into this. I'm not one of those who gets up and says New Orleans was destroyed because it was full of sinners, or because I didn't make it to Minyan enough times this week. I don't know the ways of the Almighty. He has His reasons for everything that happens on this world and they are not usually clear to us down here.

But I was just amazed at how topical (once again) the Haftorah was. And this is not a prophecy of doom and destruction. It is a prophecy of comfort. Yes, you have suffered greatly. Yes, you have lost all that you had. But it will be rebuilt. We will help you. If you need food or water, come, and we'll give it to you.

We are all disciples of the Lord. Let's start acting like it and seek peace.

So I wrote the following song. This is the acoustic version, just me singing and playing guitar. A fuller version with the whole band is coming.

Aniyah (acoustic)

Aniyah (electric)

Video from 11/06:

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Horton Hatches the Egg

Mrs. Balabusta brought home Horton Hatches the Egg, by Dr. Seuss, for me to read to The PT over Shabbos. For some reason, I thought that we owned this book already, but apparently not. The words were instantly familiar as I sat on the couch with my daughter curled up next to me and dove into the story. I have always loved Dr. Seuss, and in particular, the books written by Ted Geisel himself. The words are perfect. The phrases roll naturally off the tongue. The text has a perfectly metered rhythm. You can't help but speak it in any way other than Dr. Seuss intended it. There are so many tedious, poorly written children's books out there, but you don't really realize it until you've read something like Horton Hatches the Egg.

And I always cry when I read this book. Mrs. B. can vouch for that. In the 15 or so years I've been reading it, my voice has never failed to crack as I get to the end, when the narrator proclaims that "it should be, it should be, it SHOULD be like that. For Horton was faithful, he sat and he sat." I don't know why. Something about this tale of sincerity, and integrity, and abandonment, and injustice just gets to me. And I feel generally happy, to the point of tears, when poor Horton finally gets to enjoy the fruits of his labor.

I had another reason to get misty over this one. I really haven't read the book in many years. And as the PT sat with my arm 'round her, staring intently at the bright pictures, I thought of the girl to whom I had first read this book, who is now 900 miles away, and who will be home this Shabbos.

The Drive-in Chupa

Last week we went to a wedding in Chicago. A wedding in Chicago means that in addition to the hours spent at the affair itself, there is an extra 3-4 hours of driving. And if you add that on to my predisposition against weddings to begin with, you end up with a sure-fire formula for a cranky PT. As we drove down through traffic to get to the hotel, we passed through sheets and sheets of hard rain.

So imagine my dismay when, as we arrived at the hotel, we spotted a Chupa and rows of chairs set up in the parking lot. I know it is a custom to have the wedding ceremony and the Chupa (the canopy) outdoors. But too many weddings don't seem to allow for a "Plan B" when the weather doesn't cooperate.

It was not a surprise to anyone when it started to drizzle as we were asked to go outside for the ceremony. As I stood there in my freshly dry-cleaned suit ($9.47), I seriously thought about going inside. Then I though, well, it's not too bad yet, and it's only water; maybe they'll hurry up and it'll be over before it really starts coming down.

No such luck. Before anyone started marching down it began to rain heavily. And by the time they were doing the blessings under the Chupa, it was dark, wet, and thunder and lightning could be heard and seen. And the occasional airliner taking off (it was near the airport).

Something funny happened. Instead of running inside, more people came out. In fact, the heavier the rain, the more people rushed out to participate. And instead of sitting bored in the rows of chairs, which were now soaked through, people got up and crowded around the Chupa, the better to see and hear what was going on. A few people got into their SUV's, and drove them around to face the ceremony. Some turned on their headlights. Of course, I didn't sit in a car; not that I was invited. But one Rabbi was inexplicably dry when he ran up to say his blessing.

It ended up being incredibly cool. I was only a few feet from the canopy, and every few seconds, a flash from a camera would go off, and thousands of drops of rain would suddenly flash motionless into view, as if the ceremony were taking place in a field of stars. The feeling of genuine joy was palpable through the damp air. I turned to see a semicircle of cars surrounding the group, their occupants sitting quietly and observing the ritual. It was surreal.

I had arrived at the wedding annoyed, and feeling sorry for the bride, the groom, and their families, thinking that their wedding had been ruined by the weather. I left realizing that this was a celebration that none of us would be forgetting any time soon.

Friday, September 23, 2005

I have to blog this

A bunch of interesting things happened to me yesterday which I'd love to blog about but I won't have time today. In particular, I really want to blog about the "Drive-in Chupa" I attended last night, but I can't do it justice, so it will have to wait a little.

Increasingly, I find myself saying things like, "Wow, that was cool; I'll have to blog about it," or "that was so funny; it'd make one heck of a blog!" Often multiple times a day.

The funny thing is, I don't think my life is any more interesting now than it was before I started blogging. I think I'm just paying attention now.

Sad News

I want to send my condolences to my landsman Neil Kramer of Citizen of the Month, who's father passed away yesterday. Baruch Dayan Emes. May he be comforted amongst the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

And while his father was passing at Queens General yesterday, my mother was literally across the street touring a nursing home for my father.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

It's Our Block

Back in February, I blogged about how violated I felt when my car was broken into. Since then, there have been a number of vandalisms and break-ins on our block.

Last week, I attended a block meeting with my neighbors, the Alderman, and the police. The meeting was populated by people who lived within a one block radius of my house. Although there were a few familiar faces, I was shocked by how many unfamiliar faces were there. The group was a mix of Blacks, Whites, and Orthodox Jews.

As the meeting began to wind down, several people came over to me and told me that they had seen me walk past their house every week with my children (on my way to shul), but that they didn't know my name. You all know how terrible I am with names, but I made a real effort that night to introduce myself and try to remember some of their names and faces, so that I could greet them more personally the next time I walk past them as they water their lawns.

There was one sentiment that was echoed over and over again by the attendees. Whether they were Black, White, or Jew, they all said the same thing:

This is our block, and we are all neighbors, and we have to look out for each other.

Wouldn't it be great if the rest of the world worked this way?

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Dentist Sketch

Well, I went to the dentist today. I can’t say exactly when, but at some point, I turned into Bill Cosby. Before I start, I should mention that I also went to the dentist a month ago. It was at this visit that he told me he needs me to come back “a little sooner.” At which point I made up my mind to get one of those expensive ultrasonic toothbrushes. The kind that requires a degree in nuclear physics to assemble (Mrs. Balabusta got quite a kick out of watching me work my way through the instructions: “No, the BLUE ring, the BLUE ring…No, not the RED one! Don’t let the sides touch!!”). Also I decided to start flossing more. That is, to start flossing. More than before. Which was never.

So I returned today to continue the torture. Mind you, I have nothing against dentists. There has to be some occupation for people who can’t get into medical school. And I like this fellow quite a bit. He’s always asking me about my band, my practice, my family. Unfortunately he asks me at times when there are very sharp implements in my mouth and answering causes blood to spray out. Anyway…

Right off the bat I told him that I had bought the atomic toothbush. He seemed unimpressed. I reached down to get my Pocket PC, on which I had thoughtfully loaded a picture of the toothbrush, I guess to prove that I wasn’t making it up. But, alas, at that point, the assistant inquisitor fastened the paper bib around my neck, and the session proceeded.

And possibly this is the point where I turned into Bill Cosby. Because the dentist did something unexpected. Usually, he takes out one of those sharp metal hooks and hacks away at me. And I always assume the goal is to chip as much enamel off of my teeth as possible. Apparently he was not successful last month, because this time he took out something electric and quickly shoved it into my mouth. Before I knew what was happening, it started to emit a high-pitched, nerve-splitting whine (and living with the PT, I know a thing or two about high-pitched, nerve-splitting whines).

Boy, this doesn’t sound much like Bill Cosby yet, does it? Hmm…

OK, how bout this:

The dentist puts a supersonic cattle prod into your mouth. This is to see if he can make your hair stand on end. (laughter) It DOES.

Then, he takes out a long, metal hook. This is what he uses, when he tries to make you levitate. (more laughter) After a few minutes, you look down, and see that your legs are in fact, lifting themselves up off the chair, and levitating in mid-air. (even more laughter)

The dentist stops, because he does not want your legs to come all the way around and kick him in the head. (even more…you get the idea)

Then he points to his assistant. “GET THE HOSE.”

The assistant puts a hose the size of Detroit into your mouth. Then water pours in until you begin to drown.


Now you discover that the hose is actually a high powered industrial vacuum cleaner. It sucks the water, and most of your tongue, out of your mouth. You begin to relax.


The assistant tells you to close your mouth around the hose. It then begins to suck your lunch out from your stomach. You soon begin to feel your legs deflating. The assistant tells you to open your mouth. FOOOP! Your body reinflates.

You want to tell the dentist that you have had enough, but you cannot speak, because all of the air was sucked out of your lungs, and has not had enough time to get back in.

“Well that wasn’t so bad,” he says.

“For you or for me?”

“Come back in three months. Don’t forget to floss.”

You can bet that I won’t.

Monday, September 19, 2005

PT clan in a nutshell

As a followup to this post on The PT, here's a cartoon for the rest of us:

hat tip to Eli

update: I copied the strip from its original location to avoid losing the link.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

I need a Mitzvah

The PT: I need a Mitzvah.

PT: You need a Mitzvah...?

The PT: My Morah says everyone has to do a Mitzvah, but I don't have a Mitzvah **hiccup!**

PT: I see. I know! You could give your Abba a kiss goodnight!

The PT: That's not a Mitzvah.

PT: ...sure it is...

The PT: Well...that's a night time Mitzvah. My Morah is asleep **hiccup!** She won't see it! I need a daytime Mitzvah.

PT: Umm...why don't you get yourself dressed all by yourself tomorrow morning.

The PT: ...that sounds too hard...I know **hiccup**! I'll play hide and go seek!

PT: I'm pretty sure that's not a Mitzvah.

The PT: Then, someone will come find me and go "boo!", and then my hiccups will go away!

PT: I don't think the Morah's going to go for that one.

Comment Advice

Hey, Psycho Toddler:

How come you get so many comments? You wrote something utterly moronic and you got 27 comments! It doesn't look like you put any thought or effort into what you write! So why do people leave comments on your blog and not mine?

I wrote a really funny piece and nobody said boo.

A big fan of yours.

Look, Abie, there's a reason people don't leave comments on your blog. It's because you ignore them. I've read your blog. You're very talented. But it's all about you. Youyouyouyouyouyou YOU! A blog isn't your personal soapbox where you can get up and spout off about whatever interests you and then walk away and expect people to adore you. A blog is an interactive medium. That means you have to interact with your readers.

Acknowledge their comments. React to them. Go visit their blogs. Leave thoughtful comments there. And no, don't leave comments like, "hey, nice story, I have a more interesting one here."

The blogosphere is a neighborhood. Be a good neighbor.


Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Official Babelfish Post

J'aime Babelfish. J'ai une grande quantité d'amusement avec elle. Je propose que nous répondions à ce poteau seulement dans des langues étrangères !

Je commencerai :

Voici ce poteau dans le Japonais :

私はBabelfish を愛する。私はそれの多量の楽しみを有している。私は私達が外国語のこのポストにしか答える提案する!



Tuesday, September 13, 2005

PT vs The PT

PT: How do you like your new school?


PT: Really? What grade is he in?

The PT: (exasperated) MIIIINNNNEEE!!!!

Unsevering Old Ties

The internet is a strange thing.

Yesterday I had a chat with David ‘Treppenwitz’ Bogner. We’ve had a lot to say to each other recently, which I find interesting, because we hadn’t been in contact for 14 years. In fact, I think the last time I spoke with him was at that photo shoot that he so graciously posted, and the truth is, I’m not even sure if I spoke to him then. That shoot was one of the last things I did as an official member of Shlock Rock, and as an official New Yorker. A few months after that session, I packed up my family and moved into self-imposed exile in Wisconsin. And I haven’t spoken to any of my Yeshiva University friends since then.

I suppose there were many reasons for not staying in touch with my old friends. We had less and less in common. Even at that point, I was one of the few who was married with kids. I figured, trying to stay in contact with my New York buddies would be a) expensive and b) pointless. So I lost touch. It was several years before I returned to NY for a visit, and by then, I didn’t even know how to contact most of them. My trips home have been brief hit-and-run missions. I see my folks, then head back. I’m not sure what I would do or say if I came across any of the guys I used to waste so much time with in college.

It’s easy enough to be isolated and introverted when you are a thousand miles away from your old life. And I do look at it as my old life. I’m different in many ways than the boy, the adolescent, and the young man who grew up in Queens. I’m less naïve, less trusting, more jaded, more tired, less interested in making or nurturing new friends. Uninterested in hearing about other people’s kids or jobs or vacations. I’ve become an island.

Yes, the internet is a strange thing. Within a few months of opening this blog, I came in contact with many old friends. People I hadn’t thought about or remembered were suddenly in touch with me on a daily basis. I began to retrieve memories from the most remote sources. Memories are like shoes. You get comfortable with a few, and then you find yourself using them over and over. And then one day you realize you have a closet full of old ones that you haven’t tried in a while. There may be good reasons for not trying some of those old ones on, but occasionally you find one that makes you wonder where it was all this time.

Fudge’s initiation at YU is stirring up some of those old memories for me. Many are good. Mrs. B. reminded me that she spent her first New York Shabbos down at Stern, and that Trep was at our table. Whoosh! The memory is back. At that same table was a girl with whom we had not spoken or thought about in many years. In a bizarre coincidence, she called Mrs. B. on Friday and spent close to an hour on the phone with her discussing a potential move to Milwaukee. Right now I'm trying hard to remember who else was at that table so I can expect the call.

So as I begin to emerge from this cocoon in which I've spent the last decade and a half, I'm starting to reconnect not only to old friends, but to parts of me that I had lost somewhere in that old shoe-closet. I hope they don't stink too much.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

I miss GenCon

I miss GenCon. The Role Playing Game convention was based in Milwaukee for many years. I enjoyed going down there with my kids to stare at the geeks, nerds, and scantily-clad sci-fi and fantasy females. And to check out the latest upcoming computer games.


At least I'll always have this.

Friday, September 09, 2005

What was he thinking?

Has Treppenwitz finally jumped the shark? This could be the post that does him in....

Thursday, September 08, 2005

New Sparklifters Tunes

Avi Teitz just let me know that there are some brand new songs from his band, The Sparklifters, available for download here. If you like 60's/70's blues-rock bands, definitely give these a listen.

Avi is an old friend and a great guitarist. Also a regular PsychoToddler lurker. And his brother taught me computers in college. And his other brother is a much better bass player than me.

If you're looking for more free music, make sure to download some of my tunes from here or here and stick 'em in your MP3 player or burn them to CD. Stop listening to music on those crappy computer speakers!! Listen to music the way it was meant to be heard--in the car!!

PS It wouldn't kill you to buy his album if you like it (or mine, I guess). Support the little guys making good indie Jewish Music!

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

I.M. Watching You

When I signed up for DSL a few years ago, the installation disk put Instant Messenger on my computer. Since then, I've used it to keep in contact with my wife during the day. We exchange meaningful conversations like:

PT: I think I poisoned myself with that old bread
Mrs. B: Serves you right
PT: I think I might die
Mrs. B: The good times are over

Or we use it to discuss medical matters (she's a nurse at a clinic where I volunteer):

Mrs. B: I think this student has strep. should I do a rapid test?
PT: whatever

Now that Fudge is in NY, I've found it to be an excellent way to keep up with her:

Fudge: ho abba
PT: Hey Pewo
Fudge: My roommates just went to a club and stayed out all night, but I decided to stay in and go to a nursing home instead
PT: Who is this really?

And I also have my other kids on my buddy list, so I can send them messages when they are at home on vacation:

PT: Larry, get off the computer and fold THAT LAUNDRY!!

Finally, I put my Israeli cousin Eli, who stayed with us last month, on my list too, so he sends me deep messages about what's going on in Israel:

PT: What do you think of the disengagement?
Eli: It's stupid
PT: Cool, thanks for the update

I've tried to avoid adding more names, because I already have windows popping up at me every few minutes and it makes it very difficult to work. However, I upgraded the Messenger last week, and as part of the process it scanned my email contacts and offered to add them. I reluctantly added a few names. In particular, there's a blogging buddy of mine with whom I've become relatively close and usually exchange a few emails a day (he can out himself in the comments if he wishes).

Now, this last addition has yielded some interesting side effects. Aside from the fact that we can now interrupt each other's work even more than before, I now seem to be able to 'spy' on him. I can tell when he gets to work. He can tell when I leave. It's a little freaky.

I'm trying to avoid clicking on him just to say hi. I'm sure he's got more important things to do, but I know he'd be polite and respond anyway. I have another friend to whom I haven't spoken in about 18 years who added me to his buddy list. I see him up there every day. So far, no contact. It's like walking into a room filled with people you know, each huddled over his or her desk working, and nobody is acknowledging that the others are there.

I think I've taken anti-social to a whole new level.

Monday, September 05, 2005


I played a wedding last night with Ruby Harris. I always enjoy playing with Ruby. Not only is he a phenomenal fiddle player, but he takes charge at a gig and runs in wild and often unexpected directions. He'll go from Klezmer to Rock to Disco to Zydeco to Dixieland all in one set. If you can keep up, it turns into quite a work-out. He also tends to bring along top-notch sidemen, which lets me play with a caliber of player I don't usually get to work with. The main reason I put him on a job is that it frees me up from worrying about leading, calling songs, and baby-sitting the band. I can sit back, sub-lead, and just get into my bass playing. Which was, BTW, awesome last night. That new bass is just HOT. I didn't even have to touch the EQ knobs on my amp. It just spit out a lean, mean sound. To all you musicians out there, I highly recommend getting at least ONE quality instrument. That it took me 25 years to figure this out is just sad.

Anyway, I'd have to say the highlight of the night was an improvised and wild version of Bei Mir Bist du Schoen. About halfway through the song, Ruby called over to the horn players "NEW ORLEANS JAZZZZZZZ!!!!" and they let it loose in what turned out to be our little tribute to that devastated city. I can't remember having such a moving time on stage. The horn players were really great. They worked well together, doing a lot of Motown-style horn parts and generally being very impressive. I locked in well with the drummer. The other highlight was a funky rendition of Santana's Europa, where everyone got a solo.

Generally speaking, I don't eat the food at these weddings unless I know for sure that it's actually Kosher. Some of you may think, "why would there be non-Kosher food at a Jewish wedding?" But you'd be surprised. This wedding was at a Conservative synagogue, which, while it does have a kitchen and an on-staff Mashgiach to supervise the cooking, is not known to keep Kashruth at Orthodox standards. Those of you who know me know that when in doubt, I don't eat. That holds true in town, on the road (I'm the guy who ate M&Ms for 3 days in Los Angeles because I didn't know where the kosher restaurants were), or at a gig. That's just me.

However, last night things looked different. For one, when I got there, there was a large mechitza (divider) set up in the middle of the room for separate dancing. Hey, I didn't even have a mechitza at my wedding. Then, as we played, I noticed a sprinkling of Orthodox rabbis at the various tables, and yes, they were eating. So I got pretty excited, and during the break, I had the kitchen staff bring a round of food to the band.

I recall remarking about how good the food was. "I really hope this is kosher," I joked, as I downed some salmon wrapped in a filo-dough shell. A little while later I ran into one of the rabbis, who asked if I wanted anything to eat. "No thanks," I said. "I got food for the band."

"Oh, good," he said. "Because we got extra meals brought in at our table, but I'm glad you had them get some for you from the Kosher caterer." Gulp.

I hastily walked away. I wasn't sure what I should be doing next. In all the years since I started keeping Kosher, I don't think I've ever mistakenly eaten something traife. I might add in at this point that this is a very good case for the concept of maaris ayin, which is where it's better not to do something that looks wrong even if it's actually OK. Like ordering in a Kosher meal at a patently non-Kosher restaurant. People will think you are either eating traife or that the restaurant is Kosher. Zing. I got that one last night. Obviously my own fault for not looking more closely at what the rabbis were eating or asking someone. Lesson learned.

Anyway, it wasn't as bad as it could have been. It was a Jewish synagogue, and while not up to my standards of Kashruth, it's unlikely that anything really non-Kosher was introduced into the food, like shrimp or pork. And it was all fish and dairy anyway. But in a way I feel a little unclean this morning.

And my back aches. People see the band on-stage rocking out and having a good time, and they don't realize how much shlepping and work goes into it. I've often joked that I don't get paid to play, I get paid to shlep. The playing I do for free. So after everyone was gone, I broke down the PA and the amps and mics and cables and stands and packed them into the PT mobile and drove home. Then unpacked everything into my house while battling the moths that were flying around by the porch light. Now I'm procrastinating shlepping the whole lot downstairs as I type this instead.

Which reminds me. Back to work...

Friday, September 02, 2005

I'm talkin to whatzisface (or The Case for Nametags)

"What's your name?"

It's official. I'm terrible with names. If someone comes up to me and introduces himself, the odds are that, by the time he finishes saying his last name, I will already have forgotten it. In fact, there is a good chance I may not have even heard it in the first place. It will go in one ear and out the proverbial other without firing so much as one neuron in my so-called brain.

This is not a sign of impending dementia. Have no fear. I've always been like this. The only way for me to remember a name is to see it in writing, and stare at it intentionally, and then mouth it three times while glancing at the face of its owner. I'm not kidding. There are drug reps out there who have been calling on me for 10 years whose names I still don't know because I'm to embarrassed to stare at their chests.

"Hi Dr. S!"


And in shul? Foggedaboutit! I think we had 4 or 5 families move in over the summer. I have no idea who they are or what their names are. I even mix up the names of people I actually do know. I remember about 10 years ago I called one of the Rabbi's sons by his brother's name, and he said something like "G-d forbid!" and I don't think he's spoken to me since.

It gets really embarrassing the longer it goes on. There are people that I've met two or three times over the years whose names I still can't remember, and now I'm too ashamed to ask.

"What, you mean you've been having kiddush with this guy for 15 years and you still don't know his name? Are you a moron??"

All I'm saying is, if more people would make an effort to wear big, bright name tags on their shirts, my life would be much simpler.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Going, going...

With all the hoopla surrounding Fudge's departure to New York, I almost overlooked the fact that two of my boys are also leaving for school this week. Today, Mrs. Balabusta took Larry up to the Yeshiva for the first time.

I sat with two happy/sad mothers from out of town, one from Minnesota and one from Massachusetts, as they discussed how they couldn't believe they were actually sending their kids away from home. I commiserated. I was in their shoes last year, when I sent Moe away. At least I thought I was.

I wasn't. Moe was back home within the week to do laundry and fire up the computer games. And he's never been away for more than a week at a time since. We are truely fortunate to have such a great boy's school available in town, and to have access to our sons.

But this year I am in their shoes. I can't believe I sent my daughter away from home.

Doctor De-Mentor

The Medical College just called. They got your new brain—whoops, wrong conversation. Let me start over:

The Medical College just called. They want me to take on a new medical student. I agreed. I’ve been a mentor for first and second year students for about eleven years now. The idea is to take fresh students, and in addition to tons of histology, anatomy, and biochemistry classes, to stick them into a real doctor’s office to get the feel of what practicing medicine is actually like. Once a month or so, they show up over here and I get to twist their little minds until they act like me. OK not really.

Overall it’s been a good experience. I get them young, when they are still human beings. And I see my job as trying to keep them human as they increase their knowledge of medicine and transition from laymen to professional clinicians. I try to keep them grounded and give them perspective. I remind them that the patient is not just a list of drugs and diseases, or a stat sheet of electrolytes and blood cells. There is a person here, one that they will get to know over the next few years and who will get to know them.

Many of you may be saying, “duh, of course you have to show them that medicine is practiced on human beings,” but until maybe 20 years ago this was not routinely done. Students went from college into medical school, where they learned basic and advanced science and stayed out of clinical situations. Then after 2 years they were thrown into teaching wards with the sickest of the sick and told to learn on the job. By the time the average physician left residency, he had a very de-humanized view of the patient, and there was a big rift between him and the one entrusted to his care.

Enter the Introduction to Clinical Medicine, which hoped to prevent this schism. The idea being to keep students in touch with the personal side of medicine, even when they know nothing about. It’s interesting to watch from my perspective. They come to me very green. They sit in my office with their clean white half-coats and their stethoscopes and manuals and don’t know what to do. They have not learned anything yet about disease or cure. Often they know very little about talking to patients and almost nothing about examining patients. They are laypeople. No more qualified to practice medicine than the patient. Mostly they follow me and observe me. And then we talk for a while afterwards. Sometimes I ask them to go talk to a patient first and find out why the patient is in the office. This is intimidating, because, having no knowledge of medicine, they have no idea what they should be asking. But they are wearing the uniform, so the patient expects them to know something.

This is OK. I tell them that I don’t expect them to ask the right questions. I don’t expect them to know what endocarditis or atherosclerosis or tenosynovitis is. I don’t care if they ask stupid questions. My goal is not to get them to ask a battery of questions and then leave the room. I just want them to talk to the patient. I want them to listen to the patient. I want them to learn how to let the patient tell them what is wrong. They have to learn the art of listening. If I can get them to pick that up early enough, then the rest will follow much more easily.

Over the years I observe them. The dress becomes more casual, the attitude to me and the clinic more relaxed. They start learning the right questions to ask to get to the correct diagnosis. They learn to spend a little less time getting the information they need, without making the patient feel like he was rushed. I get to see the transition from layperson to professional. My patients get to know the students as well. Often I sense some pride from some of the older patients, as they watch the young man or woman gradually become more confident in his or her practice. When the students leave, my patients ask about them, as if they had helped train them as well.

Which of course, they have.